Craig Cunningham is still continuing down the road to recovery from the heart failure that nearly claimed his life, and his journey towards reaching full health required the 26-year-old to undergo a partial amputation of his left leg.
ESPN’s Craig Custance reported Thursday that Cunningham’s doctors began to fear that an infection that had started in his leg could make recovery difficult. As a result, part of his left leg was amputated on Dec. 24 and it’s expected that Cunningham will regain normal function of the leg, with the use of prosthetics, once he has healed.
All of this is the result of the terrifying heart failure Cunningham suffered out of nowhere ahead of a Nov. 19 game. As the Tucson Roadrunners got set to take on the visiting Manitoba Moose, Cunningham collapsed, needing to have his jersey cut away as medical personnel on hand worked to save his life. He was later transported to hospital where doctors worked frantically to save his life, requiring the use of an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — also known as ECMO — machine and a procedure that had only been attempted three times prior in order to keep Cunningham alive.
Custance reported that it remains unknown what caused Cunningham to suffer ventricular fibrillation, which occurs when heart chambers quiver instead of pumping blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As of right now, Cunningham remains at Tucson’s Banner-University Medical Center in the intensive care unit, with the hope he can make his way to a rehab center within the next week. There, Custance reported, Cunningham will learn how to complete tasks without the use of part of his left leg, at which point he will move on to another rehab facility that specializes in recovery for athletes.
And when he has completed his rehab, Cunningham will move on to the next chapter of his life, his playing days unfortunately at an end. He’ll officially finish his career with 63 games, three goals and eight points in the NHL, 319 games, 101 goals and 203 points in the AHL and captaincies for three different teams, most recently the very same Roadrunners team with which his career came to a tragic end.
Cunningham is all right with this being the end of his professional hockey journey, though, given he has his health.
"Every time I think about how I can't play anymore, I just think back to [the fact that] I'm lucky I'm not 10 feet under," Cunningham told Custance. "If I have to sacrifice playing hockey to be alive -- and it's a tough pill to swallow for sure, it's been my whole life since I was 4 years old -- it's time for me to move on.”
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